Now Reading
Housing barriers remain for people with disabilities

From the archive: This story is more than 10 years old.


Housing barriers remain for people with disabilities

The Olmstead Decision of 1999 was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that affirmed that people with disabilities have the right to live in the community and not be institutionalized. Thirteen years since this ruling, people with disabilities are living in the community in large numbers and with their families - with almost one in three households having at least one person with a disability in 2005, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

However, the choice of community living options remains narrow for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (ID/DD), with only 12 percent of people renting or owning their own apartments or homes, 22 percent living in congregate or institutional settings, and as many as 57 percent living with their families.  (For a more detailed look at statuses and trends in residential services in the U.S. among the ID/DD population, click here.)

Nationally, there remains a lack of accessible, affordable, independent housing due to several barriers.

Housing discrimination

Discrimination towards people with disabilities in housing has been illegal since 1988 when disability was added as a protected group to the Fair Housing Act. In spite of this protection, a number of reports reveal that discrimination against people with disabilities persists.

  • In 2012, disability discrimination tops the types of housing complaints filed among community-based organizations, according to a report by Consumer Action.
  • The National Fair Housing Alliance found that disability complaints were the most reported among all minority groups in 2011.
  • A 2005 study conducted by the Urban Institute in Chicago found that almost one of every six housing providers who indicated that units were available to applicants refused to allow reasonable modifications in units needed by wheelchair users.  A third of the advertised rental properties were not even accessible enough to visit.
  • In February 2012, HUD charged Bank of America with posing unnecessary and burdensome requirements on borrowers who relied on disability income, including making them provide a physician statement. 


Poverty also presents a formidable barrier to obtaining housing. HUD released a report, 2009 Worst Case Housing Needs of People with Disabilities, which found that households with people with disabilities continue to face more economic barriers than the general population. Data from the 2009 American Housing Survey also revealed that:

  • One in three very low income renter households were non-elderly with a disability.
  • Two out of three renter households with a person with a disability were very low income.
  • Very low income renter households with a person with a disability were more likely to spend over half of their incomes on rent.
  • Very low income renter households with a person with a disability were two times more likely to receive housing assistance.

Lack of funding and housing options

Housing Choice vouchers are the most popular option of all public housing programs for people with disabilities administered through the U.S. Department of Housing & Urban Development (HUD). The tenant-based vouchers are flexible and may be used to rent townhomes, apartments, and single-family homes in the private market, truly promoting community inclusion.

Unfortunately, in most urban areas, applications for these vouchers are not being accepted as there are too many people on the wait lists. Those that do have an open wait list tend to be in rural areas with limited access to transportation, and the wait list can be more than five years long. Some areas may choose to prioritize individuals on the wait list by disability status, but many do not.  In lieu of vouchers, public housing wait lists continue to be lengthy and are often inaccessible to those with disabilities.

Recent federal actions have supported the Olmstead decision and the ADA by advancing initiatives that address these barriers and have redirected funding mechanisms into increasing community living options at the local level:

  • In April of 2012, the Administration for Community Living was created, which brought together key Health and Human Service offices, including the Administration on Developmental Disabilities, the Administration on Aging, and the Office on Disability.
  • In 2009, the U.S. Department of Justice doubled enforcement efforts of Olmstead with its involvement in 40 matters in 25 states related to housing discrimination.
  • Medicaid changes and the Money Follows the Person Rebalancing Demonstration grants have diverted people into community based services over institutionalization.
  • In April 2012, HUD announced grants totaling $85 million that would be awarded for project-based rental assistance through 811 vouchers to house extremely low income persons with disabilities in integrated housing complexes, in which no more than 25 percent of the total units were designated to people with disabilities

While there has been progress at the federal level, clearly, the U.S. has some work to do in expanding housing options for people with disabilities at the local level as barriers remain. In most cases, public input is required from the citizens in order for HUD to approve the spending plan submitted by each locality’s housing department to obtain funding.

Therefore, it is critical that proactive relationships are established with these housing departments by the disability community to address their needs and concerns in each department’s planning documents.  In order to reverse the drought in housing options nationally, the disability voice has to be heard at home.

Morrison Institute for Public Policy is a leader in examining critical Arizona and regional issues, and is a catalyst for public dialogue. An Arizona State University resource, Morrison Institute uses nonpartisan research and communication outreach to help improve the state's quality of life.

McFadden is a policy analyst at the Morrison Institute.

— 30 —

Top headlines

Best in Internet Exploder